Dubai: the smartest city of the future?

Dubai’s passionate adoption of futuristic technologies could see it leapfrog other developed economies, says Courtney Trenwith
By Courtney Trenwith
Fri 14 Oct 2016 12:36 AM

Dubai may have made one of its smartest decisions yet. By declaring its intention to become a leading Smart City by 2020 it has boldly opened up the emirate to some of the most futuristic and effective technology.

No one can predict just what impact smart technology will have on the world. Yet going by past innovations and changes to employment – think the industrial revolution, equal pay for working women and the advent of the Internet – it is guaranteed to be extreme.

By placing itself at the forefront of this revolution, Dubai could be positioned to dramatically take over current economic leaders: while UK MPs last week implored the government to establish a commission to look at the potential issues associated with artificial intelligence, Dubai announced founding partners in a AED1 billion ($272m) Dubai Future Accelerators programme that will fund the testing and development of next-generation technology and businesses.

The programme has already invited 30 companies to collaborate with seven government authorities in developing and testing products designed to solve challenges in key economic and strategic sectors. The creative ideas all have a future outlook and offer solutions to the challenges facing key sectors including health, education, energy and water, transport, infrastructure, security and safety, and technology. The participants are expected to develop solutions in Hyperloop transport, 3D printing, and digital financial transactions, according to the UAE government media agency WAM.

That contrasting approach with many governments around the world is likely to help Dubai leapfrog major cities as early as mid-century.

The emirate has quickly understood the value of becoming a smart city. Between 2003-2015 it saved AED4.3bn ($1.2bn) due to the adoption of smart technology in government services, according to Smart Dubai Government, the technology arm of Smart Dubai, the entity charged with transforming Dubai into the ‘smartest and happiest’ city in the world.

From adopting an automated metro system in 2009 to monitoring solar panels in the desert, most aspects of the emirate have been made more efficient via smart technology. Its plans for a Hyperloop that could slash travel times between Dubai and Fujairah – currently a two-and-a-half-hour drive – to 10 minutes, plus a goal to ensure 25 percent of all transport is driverless in 2030, will not only provide for economic boosts but significantly reduce carbon emissions, one of the world’s biggest dilemmas going forward.

The emirate’s business friendly rating also will improve will the adoption of IBM’s cognitive computing service for business licensing and registration, announced on October 4. Utilising artificial intelligence, the software, named Saad, can understand natural language and rapidly analyse and interpret huge amounts of data to provide solutions.

But one of the most poignant points in Dubai’s Smart City strategy is its enthusiasm in partnering with the private sector in both the adoption and exploration of smart technology. By keeping the doors open and inviting innovators from amateurs to entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 giants to work with it to solve the most pressing challenges, it is embracing one the key elements to any success.

The emirate’s experience and passion for the sector also is paying off in the form of relationships with other emerging cities wanting to take the knowledge path. Dubai has signed agreements to extend its Smart City concept to Lagos, Nigeria, Kochi, India, Malta and Seoul, South Korea. The concept includes creating tens of thousands of jobs in technology.

This is only the beginning of the smart technology revolution. Some resistance – typically based on the fear of the unknown – is expected, but those who embrace the sector will be the winners, and so far Dubai is a finalist.

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